Gab gives us his best bets for the weekend’s action and fancies an upset in League One…
*Prices subject to fluctuation and availability.
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West Bromwich Albion v Luton Town
Double Chance: Draw/Luton
Steve Bruce is under pressure as West Brom manager, after starting the season with one win in 11.
Performances have been better than results suggest, the Albion have scored 17 goals – the same number as second-placed Norwich – and created enough chances to grab a few more than that.
At the same time, defensive frailties have hindered the Baggies, who haven’t been helped arguably by the absence of Kyle Bartley and Semi Ajayi.
The danger for Albion, though, is that rather than taking encouragement from competitive performances and converting them into results, the performances themselves drop closer in line with results as opposed to the other way around.
The heat on Bruce means that there is a lingering sense that a negative result against Luton could see the former Birmingham and Aston Villa boss dismissed in his third Midlands job.
There is, therefore, the opportunity for Luton to start very strongly, get the home fans restless early on and ultimately run riot.
Under Nathan Jones, the Hatters are a very well-coached side.
The fiery Welshman admitted that he got his substitutions wrong in the 2-1 victory over Wigan, a game they had dominated until that point, but since that setback they have gone four unbeaten.
The Bedfordshire outfit couldn’t quite make it three wins on the spin in midweek, having to settle for a 3-3 draw with lowly Huddersfield, but set piece defending aside it was an aggressive, commanding, front-foot display from Jones’ side.
With Elijah Adebayo scoring a brace, Luton now have two fit, strong, confident, in-form centre-forwards in him and Carlton Morris, who could do damage to the burdened hosts.
— BBC Radio WM Sport (@sportbbcwm) October 7, 2022
“It could get a little bit toxic at the Hawthorns, with so many calling for Steve Bruce’s departure. The timing of this fixture is kind for Luton, who are unbeaten in four and could move into the Play-Off spots if they can take all three points in the West Midlands.”Gab Sutton
Wigan Athletic v Cardiff City
Will Keane to score anytime
After winning the League One title last season, Wigan didn’t have the busiest summer in preparation for life back in the Championship.
Just five senior players joined the Latics, and two of them came through the door on deadline day; of the quintet, only Ryan Nyambe has had significant gametime.
Leam Richardson placed emphasis on retaining existing personnel while keeping the spirit, togetherness and synergy of the group.
It made a lot of sense, because what the club went through in 2020-21, a period of financial turmoil, has in some ways strengthened the mentality of the collective.
Having come through such adversity, prior to Talal Al-Hammad’s takeover the following summer, there is a sense of no challenge being too big.
It’s made sense for Richardson, therefore, to steadily mould the group and drop one or two new players into that culture, as opposed to try to bring in a higher number of players for the extra quality, and risk losing the intangibles, which is such a strength of Wigan’s this season.
One player who has been through all the highs and lows is Will Keane, who is playing the best football of his career.
Keane has five goals already this season, as well as being a key creative force for his side, having been converted from the centre-forward he was earlier in his career into a number 10.
The former Manchester United academy graduate could fire again this weekend, against managerless Cardiff.
— Liam Henshaw (@HenshawAnalysis) October 2, 2022
“Will Keane has five Championship goals to his name already this season, having previously scored a mere eight at this level in his whole career. Leam Richardson is certainly getting a tune out of this lad!”Gab Sutton
Peterborough United v Burton Albion
Peterborough to win -1 handicap
Burton Albion showed incredible spirit to come from behind with 10-men last Saturday and beat Forest Green 3-2, thanks to a Victor Adeboyejo hat-trick.
Manager Dino Maamria admitted, though, after Tuesday’s 1-0 defeat to Fleetwood, that fatigue played a part.
Maamria hoped to freshen things up by bringing Elliot Thorpe, Calum Butcher and Mustapha Carayol into the side, but the system didn’t quite work as he hoped so a re-think will be required for the visit to Peterborough.
The Tunisian may be tempted to avoid starting Adeboyejo so as not to burn him out, but Sam Winnall may not be able to provide quite the same quality of hold-up play.
That could be significant, seeing as the Brewers don’t have raw pace in their squad and they’ll have to manage the balance between keeping their shape and maintaining the right distances between units, whilst also ensuring that they have the means of getting close to their centre-forward.
It won’t be easy for the visitors, given that Peterborough have won four of their five home league games to nil.
The Posh beat Port Vale 3-0 with a dominant showing in their last London Road encounter, before a similar 89 minutes at MK Dons.
Grant McCann’s side suffered a nervy injury-time period after conceding two late goals, but 179 minutes of the last two games give the Northern Irish boss huge encouragement – more of the same will suffice.
“As a manager, you have to be consistent with your messages”
Grant McCann ahead of Peterborough v Burton in League One
— BBC Cambs Sport (@BBCCambsSport) October 7, 2022
“Dino Maamria is faced with the dilemma of freshening the team up enough, after citing fatigue as a factor behind his Burton side’s midweek defeat, whilst also making sure the XI has enough quality to compete with a strong side like Peterborough. It’s not an easy balance to strike.”Gab Sutton
Portsmouth v Fleetwood Town
Double Chance: Draw/Fleetwood
Fleetwood are not to be underestimated.
The Trawlermen won 1-0 at Burton in midweek and were thoroughly deserving of the three points, having created enough chances to win that game more comfortably.
Normally, a team that makes the overlapping centre-back concept work is very possession-heavy, patiently working those players into dangerous areas to cross, shoot, or impact the game in an attacking sense – Chris Wilder’s Sheffield United, for example.
In Fleetwood’s case, they have somehow made it work despite not being a possession-heavy side by definition: they will knock it around for spells, but they are also very happy to play early, hopeful balls in behind with the intention of carving their opponents open.
Scott Brown’s side could not have made it work without having an extremely fit, athletic outside centre-back in Shaun Rooney, who has already forged a fantastic understanding with Harvey MacAdam.
Rooney and MacAdam work in tandem so effectively, and are always there to cover and support one another in any phase of play.
One moment, MacAdam will be staying high and wide for an out-ball from Carlos Mendes Gomes, Paddy Lane, Josh Vela or Lewis Warrington, like he did for his first half goal at the Pirelli as well as numerous other chances he created.
Another moment, he might be behind Rooney giving him the option for a lay-off in the final third, while the next he’ll be tracking back into the defensive third to nullify an opponent.
MacAdam’s height, energy, directness, versatility and tactical awareness make the 21-year-old a hugely enticing proposition for admiring Championship clubs, while his teammate has a huge range of qualities as well.
The former St Johnstone defender is not only someone who loves to attack, he loves to defend as well: he has many of the qualities that would be required in a no-nonsense centre-back.
Fleetwood could struggle to finish in the top six with the strength of competition, but they can certainly have a good season in the top half and possibly finish in the top 10.
The Lancashire outfit could enjoy their trip to Portsmouth, who are heavy favourites, having won six of their first 10 league games.
The visitors have lost just two of their 11 encounters, though, and there’s good value on a continuation of that form.
Those substitutes were sponsored by Burton Doggy Day Care.
— Fleetwood Town FC (@ftfc) October 4, 2022
“From what I saw of Fleetwood on Tuesday, I’m not sure the traders across the board have quite cottoned on to how good they are. There’s an identity to them - full of energy, high line, early balls in behind – but there’s a tactical flexibility within that. Could put Pompey’s nose out of joint.”Gab Sutton
Barrow v Mansfield Town
Mansfield to win
Barrow remain in the top seven of League Two after 11 games, which shows they are making huge strides after 20th and 22nd placed finishes in previous seasons: Pete Wild was an inspired appointment.
At the same time, back-to-back defeats suggests results might start levelling out for the Bluebirds.
They have built their fantastic start on solid defending, set piece proficiency and sharp, opportunistic attacks in the final third, which sometimes rely on opposition errors.
When Barrow face teams that defend set pieces effectively and aren’t prone to individual mistakes, they can be slightly stuck for alternative ideas.
Plus, eight players – goalkeeper Paul Farman, defenders Tyrell Warren and Niall Canavan, midfielders Sam Foley, Robbie Gotts and Harrison Neal, as well as forwards Josh Gordon and Ben Whitfield – have started all 11 league games.
That’s great in one sense for cohesion, spirit and tactical understanding, but in another sense there’s only 15 players who have shown what they can do from the start of a league game this season: the strength of the squad as a whole is something of an unknown.
As the fixtures pile-up, that could become a problem for the technically Cumbrian, spiritually Lancashire club.
Barrow could suffer a third consecutive loss against Mansfield, who possess a strong midfield with George Maris, Ollie Clarke, Stephen Quinn and George Lapslie.
If the Stags can find a clinical edge, they could be hard to stop.
— Mansfield Town FC (@mansfieldtownfc) October 5, 2022
“With huge respect to the job Pete Wild has done so far, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Barrow’s results drop-off slightly as we head into winter, just because we don’t know how good their depth is: it hasn’t really been tested so far. Mansfield likely have the greater staying power.”Gab Sutton
Bradford City v Stockport County
Bradford to win
Stockport had been hoping to attack League Two straight away, after winning the National League title last season.
The Hatters added to an already successful squad with the additions of Fraser Horsfall, Chris Hussey and Callum Camps, all of whom having thrived at this level previously.
It’s not quite clicked, though, for Dave Challinor’s side, who have accrued nine points from their first 11 league games, having been pre-season favourites for promotion.
County have already faced six of the top nine as opposed to four of the bottom nine, so there is a likelihood that results will pick up once fixtures becoming slightly more favourable.
For now, though, there’s no let-up for Stockport, who travel to in-form Bradford.
Since the start of September, the Bantams have accrued 13 points from the 15 available to Mark Hughes’ side.
Harry Lewis has impressed between the sticks, after signing from Southampton, Matty Platt has forged a solid centre-back pairing with Romoney Crichlow, Richie Smallwood and Alex Gilliead complement one another well in midfield, while a plethora of quality in wide positions is creating for hit-man Andy Cook, who is in sumptuous form.
The West Yorkshire outfit may have too much for Stockport, who are still trying to rediscover the identity that won them the National League title last season.
There is some pressure on Bradford, though, because while it’s still relatively early in the season, Leyton Orient, Stevenage and Northampton are all threatening to pull away from the chasing pack.
This Andy Cook vs Haaland era is going to be legendary, actually blessed to be living through it. 🔥
— ßen (@BCAFCBH) October 2, 2022
“Remind me to ask Andy Cook what it’s like to be the most complete centre-forward in League Two! He’s strong, aerially accomplished, mobile with good hold-up play, he enjoys the odd one-on-one with opposing defenders… oh, and nine goals to his name already.”Gab Sutton